Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo

As unlikely as it may now seem to residents of New Jersey, there were no wild turkeys in that state from the mid-1800s until the mid-1900s. The historically abundant birds were extirpated (locally extinct).  Now there are over 20,000 in New Jersey and they seem to be everywhere.

In the 1950s some colonization by wild turkeys from Pennsylvania may have occurred. In 1977 the wildlife division of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection released 22 wild turkeys. The birds did well enough that in 1979, game managers were able to trap some of the flock and release them in different locations. The reintroduction program worked splendidly.

I just spent a week in southern New Jersey in the pinelands area around the Wharton Tract. I saw flocks of wild turkeys everywhere! They were by the sides of roads, in backyards, in the woods, in empty lots, and walking among the spring crops.

And wild turkeys are not just in the remote parts of the state; they're strutting in Newark's North Ward, Cherry Hill, Tenafly, Maple Shade, and more New Jersey towns and cities than there is room to list. A flock of about 200 birds was seen in Deptford last winter.

Closer to my New York City home, a famous female wild turkey has lived for a few years in Battery Park at the lower tip of Manhattan. Our urban turkey is named Zelda after F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife who is said to have once wandered from her home and been found, like the turkey, far from her normal habitat.

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